Can you summarize the teaching of the New Testament in 10 minutes?

NTI probably couldn’t.  Andy Naselli took up the challenge recently at the Desiring God Conference for Pastors.  In just under 10 minutes, He beautifully articulates the main thrust of each New Testament book, connecting each to Christ and His gospel.

Why is this exercise important?  Each book makes a unique contribution to the magnificent redemptive story of God, which centers on and culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Understanding the “melodic line” of each book helps in two ways: it pulls us into the grand redemptive story of God; and it pushes us to contextualize individual passages so we’re consistent with the author’s unique contribution.  We see the big picture of the Bible more clearly; we see the details of the passage more clearly.  With that in mind, enjoy these crisp and insightful summaries…

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus the Messiah-king climatically fulfills the OT.

In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus (like Aslan) is on the move: Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, is a suffering servant and a model for his followers.

In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus the Messiah fulfills God’s plan by seeking and saving the lost. He is concerned especially for Gentiles and outcasts of society.

The Gospel according to John is evangelistic: Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, gives eternal life to everyone who believes in him.

Acts is history. It belongs with Luke’s Gospel as the second volume in a history of Christian beginnings (so Luke is volume 1, and Acts is volume 2). The word “Acts” denotes a type of writing in the ancient world that describes the great deeds of people or cities. The book of Acts describes the founding events of the church. Its message is that Jesus the Messiah continues to fulfill God’s plan by expanding the early church in the face of opposition through the Holy Spirit’s power.

Romans is the greatest letter in the history of the world: The gospel reveals how God is righteously righteousing (i.e., justifying) unrighteous individuals—both Jews and Gentiles—at this stage in the history of salvation. This happens by faith in Christ apart from the law-covenant, and it happens ultimately for God’s glory.

The message of 1 Corinthians is that God’s holy people (i.e., all Christians) must mature. As God’s holy people become what they already are (i.e., holy), they will increasingly not tolerate sin and will build each other up and will strongly affirm Jesus’s bodily resurrection.

The message of 2 Corinthians is that God shows his power through human weakness.

Galatians guards the gospel: both Jews and Gentiles are justified by (and continue to live by) faith in Christ, not by the works of the law.

According to Ephesians, the church (both Jewish and Gentile Christians) must maintain the unity that Christ powerfully created.

Philippians exhorts God’s holy people: conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Colossians heralds that Christ is supreme. That is the basis for the letter’s many commands.

Paul wrote two letters to the new converts in Thessalonica to strengthen their faith: (a) walk (i.e., live) in light of Christ’s imminent coming, and (b) persevere because Christ will return and set all things right, especially by judging his enemies.

Paul wrote three letters to young pastors that we call the Pastoral Epistles. (a) In 1 Timothy, those in the church (especially church leaders) must oppose false teaching and be godly. (b) 2 Timothy exhorts: Persevere for the gospel. (c) Titus exhorts: Do what is good (by the grace of God).

Philemon is Paul’s shortest and most personal letter. Its message is that you should love your Christian brothers and sisters (regardless of social barriers) by valuing them above yourself.

The message of Hebrews is that Jesus is better, so persevere (i.e., don’t fall away from the faith). Jesus is better than the prophets, angels, Moses, Joshua, and any high priest under the old covenant. Jesus’s Melchizedekian priesthood is better than the Levitical priesthood. Jesus’s sacrifice is better than any under the old covenant. Jesus’s new covenant is better than any others. Jesus is better, so persevere.

According to James, faith works. That is, genuine saving faith must become evident in how we endure trials, how we treat the poor, how we speak, and how we relate to the world.

Two letters from Peter exhort Christians who are facing persecution and false teachers: (a) stand firm in God’s grace, and (b) beware of false teachers.

John wrote three letters. 1 John is a comforting letter about assurance of salvation. You can know that you have eternal life in three interlocked ways: believing in Jesus, living righteously, and loving believers. The second and third letters exhort believers: (a) walk in the truth and love by not supporting deceivers, and (b) work together for the truth by supporting those who spread it.

Jude exhorts those whom God is keeping for Jesus: contend for the faith against grace-perverting immorality.

Revelation.  The purpose of the last book of the Bible is to comfort and encourage Christians by revealing future events and providing a heavenly perspective on present earthly difficulties. You could title this book The Return of the King. We might quibble over how to interpret various details in the book, but the message is clear: God and the Lamb will consummate their kingdom for their glory. They will consummate their kingdom by saving their people and judging their enemies.

[This review first appeared at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womahood]

Paul E. Miller. A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships.  Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.  172 pp.  $12.99.

Love is pervasive. Everybody loves something or someone.  We love our spouses, children, cars, antiques, sports teams, novels, pizza joints, movies, tribes of friends—and the list goes on and on.  In fact “love” is thrown around so flippantly that we may need to invent a new word to recapture the radical nature of biblical love.

LovingLifeWhat is biblical love?  John’s words get us started:  “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). To meditate on God’s amazing love in Christ Jesus is astounding and life-giving.  But we are also given the capacity to follow in our Savior’s footsteps—to die for others and pay the price of love!  What an extraordinary gift and calling.

It seems simple, yet both paths of love—God to us and us to others—can be complicated.  We want to experience God’s love and we want to love others.  But something may be out of sync.  We listen to good preaching on God’s love but it doesn’t land on our hearts.  We strive to serve those around us, but it isn’t received well or we’re taken for granted.  Love just isn’t easy.

Thankfully Paul Miller is a reliable guide to biblical love in A Loving Life. Much like his well-received A Praying Life, this new book offers a fresh, down-to-earth vision that transcends pious platitudes and self-love philosophies.  He tells us that love isn’t one aspect of Christianity; it is the whole.

The New American Journey

Miller contends early in the book that with regards to love “we start well but end badly” (13).  We are a culture that dreams big about love but we don’t follow through.  Our perspective on love is more influenced by Disney and Seinfeld than shaped by Jesus’ sacrificial life and death.  Why is this?  Miller gives two reasons…

Naïve expectations make us high maintenance and supersensitive. Human frailty makes us cynical, doubting the possibility of love.  The new American journey is from naivety to cynicism.  The result?  We feel abused, betrayed, and bitter.  It was better not to have dreamed.  The magic is gone  (13).

So how do we love when we’re naïve or bitter?  Miller suggests we listen carefully to the story of Ruth – a story that doesn’t set aside nitty-gritty realism but still clings to resurrection hope.

The book of Ruth shines a spotlight on biblical love in a way that is rich, peculiar, and Christ-exalting.  Miller’s short chapters and unhurried pace allow readers to slowly savor this narrative about a Gentile woman finding her way in a new place.  And along the way we’ll find love.

Hesed Love

Through twenty-three chapters Miller explores the idea of hesed love that dominates Ruth’s story. The word can be translated “steadfast love” and conveys sacrificial, one-way love (24).  Hesed love is uneven; it loves regardless of the response (42).  It’s the kind of love that releases control and chooses to love in the chaos (73).

Ruth exemplifies this kind of love.  As a Moabite, Ruth not only follows Naomi away from her home, but embraces the loneliness that would inevitably accompany a foreign woman in Bethlehem.  She sets aside any chance for marriage and family so that Naomi can have food, companionship, and care.  Miller insightfully comments:

Substitution is the structure of love.  That’s why, subconsciously, we are allergic to love.  We rightly sense that death is at the center of love.  When you realize that death is at the center of love, it is quietly liberating.  Instead of fighting the death that comes with love, you embrace what your Father has given you (27).

This idea of love-via-death is central to Miller’s book.  True love is costly.  When we offer it, we die a little bit.  Ruth offers a love to Naomi that restricts and narrows her own life.  To love is to limit ourselves.  Thankfully, as we see in Ruth’s story, this kind of narrowing love also deepens our lives.

Miller mentions how he sees this narrowing and deepening in godly men who learn to love one woman over many years.  “These husbands develop enormous capacities for gentleness, thoughtfulness, and grace.  Those who flee the sting of particularity often end up flat, without depth, lost in ephemeral things” (74).

Boaz narrowed his life for Ruth by offering her food, work, protection, and eventually marriage.  Miller points out Boaz’s “aggressive tenderness” (95).  Men in traditional cultures may avoid serving women because they could lose their dignity, while men in liberal cultures may avoid serving women because they could compromise gender equality.  Boaz’ aggressive tenderness avoids both tendencies and illustrates Paul’s teaching on sacrificial headship (Eph 5:22-33).

Miller surprised me by saying the true Christ figure in the book of Ruth is Ruth herself (152). No doubt Ruth shows hesed love.  Yet I see myself more in Ruth than Christ in Ruth.  Like Ruth I am foreigner, “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12).  Like Ruth, I need a Kinsman-Redeemer who will buy my freedom and offer me steadfast love.  Jesus is this Kinsman-Redeemer, who set aside his kingly position to pay the ultimate price of love and secure his foreign bride.

A Shepherd’s Touch

Perhaps the most attractive aspect of A Loving Life is Miller’s powerful ability to weave personal stories and anecdotes into his reflections.  He not only explains the book of Ruth and draws out biblical principles, but gently shepherds hearts with the stuff of real life.  His often self-deprecating approach demonstrates the very love that he is trying to teach.

A Loving Life is rich in practical wisdom, pastoral in its tone, immensely quotable, and challenging in its message.  It exalts Christ’s care for his people.  It confronts us with the sacrificial love that Boaz freely offered Ruth and Jesus freely offers sinners.  I enthusiastically recommend it to all who journey on the difficult yet life-giving path of love.

Every day, for many years together, he used to be up by three in the mornings, or sooner, and to be with God (which was his dear delight) when others slept…

friends_meetingSo said John Howe in his funeral sermon about Richard Fairclough, Rector of Mells (1647-1662).  I can’t help but wonder what those early mornings looked like for Fairclough, a somewhat unknown Puritan voice.  How did he approach the Bible?  How did he pray for his own heart, family, congregation, and community?

I also wonder how those early morning investments shaped Fairclough as a man and pastor.  Thankfully Howe’s funeral sermon gives some indication of the fruit that likely showed up because of Fairclough’s sustained abiding in Christ.

1. Fruit on Sunday mornings.  O how hath that congregation wont to melt under his holy fervours!  His prayers, sermons, and other ministerial performances had a strange pungency, quickness and authority with them; that softness, gentleness, sweetness…; that one would think it scarce possible to resist the spirit and power wherewith he spake.

2.  Fruit during the week.  He also found time, not only to visit the sick (which opportunities he caught at with great eagerness) but also, in a continual course, all the families within his charge; and personally to converse with every one that was capable, laboring to understand the present state of their souls, and applying himself to them in instructions, reproofs, admonitions, exhortations and encouragements, suitable thereto…

3.  Fruit of joy and devotion.  He went through all with the greatest facility and pleasure imaginable; his whole heart was in his work. 

4.  Fruit of discernment.  [He] was a man of a clear, distinct understanding, of a very quick, discerning, and penetrating judgment, that would on a sudden … strike through knotty difficulties into the inward center of truth with such a felicity that things seem’d to offer themselves to him which are wont to cost others a troublesome search.

5. Fruit in his church.  [His congregation] became much enlightened, knowing, judicious, reformed…religious people.  

May we too take great delight in daily communion with God – for our good, the edification of the church, and the spread of the gospel!

Quotes taken from A Quest for Godliness by J.I. Packer (pp 44-45).

“Who are the Elders of SSBC?”  I can’t say I’ve never heard that question before.  Our church is at the size where getting to know our Elders is not always easy.  Yet God has called these men to be our shepherds (1 Peter 5:2), teachers (Acts 6:4), and examples (1 Peter 5:3).  We should know them!  Being a Pastor at SSBC gives me the privilege of rubbing shoulders with these godly men on a regular basis.  They are wise leaders and enjoyable to be around.  More importantly, they love the Lord, love their families, and love our church.  To help us get to know them better, I plan on asking each eight questions and posting their answers here.  Enjoy.  And please pray for these men and their families.

Past interviews:               Eric Mello                   Tim Ells                   Jim Kleberg                   Kent Forkner

Just after UM beat Kansas in a last-second shot during the NCAA tourney in 2013. What enthusiasm!

I will never forget the first time I met Bill Haeck.  Jeni and I strolled into a lunch gathering during my candidacy time.  I quickly noticed a man with unusual garb:  a University of Michigan polo shirt and blue pants with my precious UM emblem plastered all over.  Needless to say we embraced as he said “welcome home!”  Clearly, this church was special.  On a serious note, Bill does double-duty at SSBC, serving as Elder and part-time Administrative Director on staff.  Bill’s strong leadership combined with his marked servant attitude have added tremendous productivity and a sense of calm to our crazy scene.  Here’s a bit more about Bill…

1.       How long have you and Rebecca attended SSBC?  What drew you to SSBC?

Rebecca and I have been at SSBC for about 15 years. There were 3 things that drew us to SSBC: the incredibly welcoming and friendly people, a clear passion for the gospel from the pulpit, and the solid preaching from Seth and Jeramie. In my humble opinion, all 3 of those have only improved over the years.

2.       What is your favorite part about serving as an Elder at SSBC?

I’m going to cheat because I have 2 favorite parts about being an elder. The first is simply the opportunity to spend time with the other elders over the last 3 years. SSBC is blessed with an incredible pool of biblical men with a diverse range of spiritual talents. It sounds trite, but it really is humbling to be around this group of men, and I have learned a lot from each of them. Second, I have enjoyed the monthly meetings where we do nothing but meet and pray for the congregation. It’s truly an amazing experience to regularly pray intensely for each and every member of the SSBC membership roll, as well as lift up special prayer requests. I never realized how much time and energy elders put into prayer and shepherding each member of the flock.

3.       When was a time that God undoubtedly showed His faithfulness to you and/or your family?

During my term as an elder, the company I helped found and build went under after 13 very successful years. The end was both dramatic and challenging on many levels as I sought other work and tried to discern what God had in store for me. During that time, not only did God provide material support, he opened up both spiritual doors and learning opportunities I never could have imagined. Many times in life, we don’t get to see God’s plan in our more difficult moments, but in this particular case, it was almost impossible not to see God’s hand at work at almost every turn.

4.       What are three Christian books that have significantly influenced your life?

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, Practical Christianity by Arthur Pink, and Desiring God by John Piper

5.       What is God currently teaching you?

It’s not possible to condense that into one simple paragraph. If I had to identify 2 areas God is working on in me, the first would be a deeper and more refined sense of humility. I’m constantly amazed at how easily pride and self-righteousness creep into my life and thinking. Second, I feel like in my 3 years as an elder, I still have only scratched the surface of learning what a true shepherd is, in heart and in action.

6.       What is one thing about yourself that most people don’t know?

Pick one… I am probably more of an introvert than an extravert, and I’m actually a born and raised Florida boy.

7.       What do you like to do for fun?

I’m happy doing just about anything outside: mountain biking, kayaking, etc., but push come to shove, I’d rather be skiing than doing just about anything else. Unlike our warm-blooded pastor, there’s never enough snow for me.

8.       How can the SSBC congregation encourage and serve the Elders?

First and foremost, praying for elders and elders’ families is invaluable. Families make as much of a sacrifice as elders do during the course of our term. Second, a large part of the elders’ duties is discerning the will of the congregation. Open and honest communication and constructive criticism are always welcome and helpful as we wrestle with a variety of issues. Finally, as elders, we work very hard to earn the trust of the congregation, but we are not infallible. In many matters, we rely on the grace, patience, and trust of the congregation as we try our best to wrestle with challenging questions that often lack clear black or white answers.